This arrogant, conceited history strides ahead with her head in the clouds and never looks down. She does not realise how she crushes millions of people beneath her feet. The common people. She doesn’t understand that one may cut a mountain in two, but people? It’s a hard task, Bhai, to cut one people into two. They bleed.
It was during my book shopping trip with Pooja at Kitab Khaana that I finally picked up Footprints on Zero Line. That Book blew me away. I never wanted to stop reading Gulzar from then on. So at my next trip to the same book shop about three days later I bought myself a copy of ‘Two’. Two is a novella, or that’s what the academicians call it. But for Gulzar Saab it is a novel by itself.
This book is one of the finest writings on partition, so is Footprints.
I did not connect with the graphic on the cover. It is a demorphed mesh with a hope of light beyond. I did like the simplistic approach in the cover design. The typography is clean and everything has its own place on the cover. It is not a great cover but surely works.
While reading the first chapter I did get confused for once. There are plenty of characters in the book. They are all related to each other somehow. There is master Fazal who has some deep philosophical ideas of freedom and partition. Only he understands that land can be divided into two, not people. People bleed when they are cut into two. There is Fauji who is not really a soldier. He is called so because of the khaki jacket with shiny buttons he wears. He and Lakhbeer are thick as thieves. One Muslim and the other a Sikh. There are also Karam Singh and his family who never thought partition would come close to them, but it did. It caught up. There are Tiwari and his wife who almost sold their daughter-in-law to a brothel, all this to acquire the custody of their grandson. Almost, because she managed to run away taking her son along. There are Rai Bahadur, his wife and his mistress.
There are many other characters two of which we have already met in a short story called ‘Two Sisters’ in Footprints on Zero Line. Each character is so unique in their fears and apprehensions. They are all at a losing end.
As the book begins we come across multiple characters. They are all unique in their own way. And they are all anticipating the upcoming separation. The characters are all somehow related to each other. One can significantly divide the book into three timelines. Before the partition where we see Master Karam Singh seeking out Master Faisal for all intelligent advices. There is an immense bond of friendship between people. Then comes the movement where all those under threat are leaving their soil in search for a safer place. Thereafter comes years ahead of separation where the ‘refugees’ are still reminded of the country they left.
There is a frenzy in the air. Everyone knows the country is going to split into two. They just don’t know where the line would be. Campellpur is a town where the cloud of separation is forever hovering. People are getting their bit of news from radios, stale newspapers and random gossip.
Freedom arrived all right, but it came drenched in blood, wounded …. The body slashed in different places. Some limbs were amputated, some left hanging, deformed, scarred.
As the boundary starts becoming clearer the people at Campellpur are on a lookout for someone who could transport them to across the border, wherever that might be.
Fauji, the truck driver, is paid in cash to take the refugees across the border. He takes money alright but the crowd in the truck is of his choosing. He picks up desperate people who can pay, or not. They battle a mob of two equipped with ammunition, death of a close friend, rescue two sisters who were held captive by a mob, and somehow reach some place where the truck breaks down. All across the journey a massive wave of emotions are seen on everyone’s face. A young boy is embarrassed as his grandfather pisses in the truck. A mother is afraid her son would be snatched away from her. A woman who doesn’t belong to anywhere is looking for a safe place to be as her lover dodges her eyes and his wife judges her all along. The human relationships are dynamic and so are the emotions. Those who could not stand each other otherwise are bonded in ways they cannot imagine.
As the refugees reach their destination in sight they part ways again. The mother takes his son and flees. The grandfather dies and he is cremated as per Hindu rituals. The mother-in-law becomes finds support in her daughter-in-law whom in normal circumstances she may have sold to a brothel. Fauji abandons his truck in grief and marches to where he came from with the crowd going the same way.
As years go by, the lives of the parted refugees converges together. Partition that was seen as an isolated event brings lifetime of impact on these lives.
Like dry leaves falling from a huge tree in a storm, the refugees kept drifting. At times they would float to the ground, only to be blown away by another strong gust of breeze.
It is a story set during the partition. One of its kind.
The writing, O my God! The writing is simple and impactful. Gulzar Sahab has a way of portraying emotions. Each word is chosen thoughtfully. One would find highlighting sentences after sentences while reading this book.
The cover page is not very beautiful but it works. The characters are formed so well. They come together beautifully and separate in the same manner. The story is well formed and impactful. The writing is extraordinary.
I wish I the book was longer. I wanted to read more of Gulzar Sahab.
The book is one of its kind. One of the best ones I have read on partition.
Whom do I recommend this to
This is for those who enjoy short and impactful books. Those who like beautiful writing are going to like this one too.
Now, he was gripped by fear. Earlier, he knew that the faithful were being called to worship in he masjid. Now, who knew why they were being summoned.
As the year 1946 approached its end, the borders of the partition started emerging. As the date of independence came closer, freedom seemed to move further away.
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